“…First there is nothing, then a deep nothing, and then there is a blue depth.” Bachelard in L’Air et des Songes.
Yves Klein was born to bohemian parents in Nice. His first love was not art but judo; he travelled to Japan to study at the Kodokan Institute. He also developed a fascination with the doctrines of Rosicrucianism, with Heindel’s Cosmology of the Rosicrucians becoming one of his favourite books. In 1951, however, he started making monochrome prints at first for himself and to hang in his judo hall, but later, in 1955, he offered a monochrome orange work to the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles only to have it refused. At the same time he developed a friendship with such artists as Tinguely, Raysse and César, the main exponents of the movement known as Nouveau Réalisme.
It was two years later when he first gained some recognition as he developed his own unique shade of ultramarine. He called the colour International Klein Blue (IKB) and this became his trademark. His first exhibition took place at the Apollinaire Gallery in
Milan. It was a success and raised a lot of interest in his work. While in Düsseldorf, Klein met members of the Zero Group and created two sponge reliefs in his signature IKB for the foyer of the Gelsenkirchen opera house. In a lecture at the Sorbonne in 1958 Klein’s explanation for his monochrome paintings clearly took in much of the Rosicrucian’s philosophy in the way the paintings showed no evidence of the human hand preferring to let the works affect the viewer almost subconsciously. He continued working with the Rosicrucian philosophy in 1960, this time focusing on the theme of classical alchemy when he sold a zone of emptiness for gold dust, for which he gave a receipt, and then threw the dust into the Seine and burnt the receipt. The same year he also executed his famous ‘leap into the void’, a photograph showing Klein seemingly flying out of the second floor of a building. Continuing his one-man challenge on the orthodox art world he also held an event in which he conducted an orchestra to play ten minutes of one single note followed by ten minutes of silence while at the same time three naked women writhed on the floor in blue paint. This happening was his first example of ‘Anthropométries’ and it was entitled ‘Le Vide’.
Klein was extraordinarily prolific in a diverse range of media. In Klein’s work one can draw comparisons to that of Marcel Duchamp but whereas Duchamp wished to challenge the notion of what actually constitutes a work of art, Klein’s intention was one of pure sensationalism. Every project Klein executed was stamped with his personality. Similar to artists such as Joseph Beuys, Klein’s art was a form of self-promotion. He was enormously influential, most notably on the Minimalist movement.